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Why You Should Never Offer Unlimited/Lifetime Support

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Why You Should Never Offer Unlimited/Lifetime Support

Selling a WordPress product along with lifetime support and upgrades is tricky, because:

  1. You’ll realize that sort of pricing model isn’t sustainable, you slowly crumble under the pressure, and your business fails.
  2. You’ll realize that sort of pricing model isn’t sustainable, you backtrack on your policy and get a lot of bad press and angry customers who no longer have that “lifetime” support they were previously promised.
  3. You’ll realize that sort of pricing model isn’t sustainable, you honor the “lifetime” or “unlimited” support agreement past customers originally bought, eat the costs associated with that, and apply the new time-limited support/upgrade policy to any new purchase.

Notice anything in common with the three above options? Oh yeah, that sort of pricing model isn’t sustainable.

Option 2 is exactly what WooThemes just did earlier today, and the decision has been met with mixed feedback (to put it nicely). In hindsight, they could’ve handled things a bit differently:

  • They could’ve kept their existing customer base happy by going with option 3, and at least stopped the bleeding of their previously flawed pricing model.
  • They could’ve minimized a lot of the bad press and angry customers if they decided to make their “option 2″ announcement a long time ago.
  • They could’ve eliminated all of the bad press and angry customers if they didn’t offer any “guarantee” of unlimited/lifetime support to begin with, along with an appropriate pricing model.

Obviously, things always look a lot different in retrospect.

Is the price increase a good thing?

I admit, when I first heard this news, I thought it was a good thing. I tweeted this:

WooThemes is simply increasing their prices to make their business more sustainable for the long-term. I mean, what good is “lifetime” support if the company who is supposed to be providing that support goes out of business?

Premium WordPress themes have been priced too cheaply for too long. When you consider the time put into development of such a product, the time put into maintaining such a product, and the time put into supporting such a product, it’s understandable to charge a premium for it.

The problem is, and what I now realize, is they’re basically making their customers pay for the mistake they made, which was only compounded by the fact they waited so long to announce it, presumably because they wanted to hop on the BS marketing term train of unlimited” to grow their user base in the short term.

They should’ve known what they were getting into, and could have put a stop to it a long time ago.

“Unlimited” is a BS marketing term

Albert Einstein once said, “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”

Notice Einstein didn’t mention any of the following:

  • Unlimited hard drives with endless disk space
  • Unlimited network capacity that unlimited megabytes of files can be downloaded from
  • Unlimited time to answer support requests from an unlimited amount of customers
  • Unlimited time to continuously develop and maintain an unlimited amount of products

Because it’s simply NOT POSSIBLE.

And yeah, I know the first two are references to the web hosting industry and their love affair with imaginary “unlimited” space/bandwidth. Try putting up a super high-bandwidth site on a cheapo “unlimited” web host and see how fast your account gets suspended.

The point is, any time you see “unlimited,” especially next to a really low price tag, question it.

Taking it one step further: per-incident support

There is an infinite amount of numbers between any two numbers. For example, between 1 and 2, there is 1.1, 1.11, 1.111, and so on.

How does this apply to unlimited support, even within a limited time frame? Well, it’s inevitable certain customers are going to submit a lot of support requests regardless.

The question may come up in the future: is the “unlimited support requests within a certain time frame” model even sustainable?

Why not limit support to a certain amount of “incidents” rather than annually or per site? I’ve seen this done on web hosts and other software products, but never seen it in the WordPress product world.

This way, the cost associated with a customer with 100+ incidents a month wouldn’t affect the price paid of another customer who required less support with less than 25 incidents in a year. Presuming incidents exceeding the predetermined limit cost extra, everything remains sustainable.

Just something to think about, but I think it would make a lot more sense than limiting it “per site” or “within a year.”

What About Unlimited Usage?

Now, keep in mind the code behind WooThemes’ products is GPL licensed. Customers can still use that code on an unlimited amount of sites forever, it just won’t be supported by WooThemes after the support period ends, unless that support agreement is renewed for an additional fee.

How long it takes that code to get old and deprecated after the one year of upgrades (or whatever limited amount of time) is up is another story.

Conclusion

Gravity Forms knew how to pull it off. They also did it over three years ago, before it became too big of a deal to offer lifetime support to all customers prior to the announcement.

WooThemes continued chugging along the unlimited train for long, it sounds like it was too late to do what Gravity Forms did and still make fiscal sense. But, at least they made a change. Despite all the negative feedback they’ve received today, they set their business up for future sustainability.

For all the customers complaining about losing their “lifetime” support, imagine how they would feel if WooThemes completely went out of business in a couple years? It could’ve been worse for everyone, longer down the road. Better late than never, I suppose.

So, what do you think of all of this? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Further Reading

  • http://wpcanada.ca Len

    I’m surprised it took them this long to realize it. I’m also surprised at how many others still offer unlimited/lifetime support.

    I know this is comparing apples and turkeys but in my line of work (construction) there is no way I can afford unlimited/lifetime support.

    • Leland

      It’s an unfortunate situation but I’m glad WooThemes recognized it at all before it was too late.

      It’ll be interesting to see what happens to some of the other WordPress products that still offer “unlimited” support in the future.

  • http://voxobox.com Keith

    It’s a pet peeve of mine the phrase ‘unlimited’. Phone companies offering ‘unlimited’ texts, web hosting companies offering ‘unlimited’ bandwidth – only to be made redundant by some “Fair use” policy.

    The thing that kind of frustrated me about the WooThemes situation is that – as well as being suddenly brought on customers – the scenario they used seemed extremely exaggerated. This was the Canvas example, in which this case a developer earned $48,000 in revenue in 4 years and submitted 48 tickets in that time. WooThemes were complaining that the initial $70 sale had resulted in $240 of support costs over the four years. Now this does back up your opinion that unlimited support is stupid, but I find it a bit obnoxious of them to assume a $170 loss. Simply put, if this example were the norm for the business then it would have been bankrupt within the first few months. I think this is extremely skewed: because let’s face it, a developer who can get that much work based off one theme and charges $1,000 each time isn’t going to need to ask questions for each website he makes.

    As for ‘Per-incident support’, I don’t ever see this happening. I don’t know about you but if I had to pay each time something wasn’t working on my website – which wasn’t covered in the documentation – I would be pretty pissed. All WordPress themes are under the OpenGL licence, so anyone can take the code and do what they want with it if they had the time to do so. What people really pay for is the invaluable support you can get from purchasing, and I doubt many are going to spend $100 for the first year and then $50 every year after to get some support.

    I don’t agree with how WooThemes have made the change, I think they are being very disloyal to their customers who made a purchase with the ‘promise’ of unlimited support, just for that ‘promise’ to be nullified. A quote from Adii: “”Life” now means two years”. Infinity is a long time compared to two years.

    I think what WooThemes is doing is right, but I don’t think they’re doing it the right way.

    • Leland

      Hey Keith, thanks for the lengthy comment!

      I think a lot of wording in WooThemes’ blog post on the topic was unfortunate. Especially the part about how they deserved a “chunk” of your revenue and other things like that.

      For the pay-per-incident, I was thinking that each product purchase would come with a support package of 25 incidents (or whatever number works), and anything after that would be extra. Just something to think about, I’ve seen it done before, and I think it would make sense for WordPress products as well.

      There are definitely a lot of things WooThemes could’ve handled differently and better with this situation.

      I think making the idea behind making this change now, was to prevent a much more serious issue down the road.

  • http://wpspeak.com/ Rudd

    Quite surprise at first, but I understand the reasons behind that. Recently we’ve seen few companies also changed their price tag. Therefore this leaves StudioPress as the only big name in industry to offer unlimited updates and support.

    • http://wpcanada.ca Len

      Hi Rudd, I suspect that will change. When I purchased the Pro Plus All Theme Pack a few years ago I paid $187 and change I think. At the time I thought to myself “how can they make money selling it at that price AND offer unlimited support/updates/upgrades?” Even at $350 I still ask that question. :)